Plants for a Thirsty State

Public interest in plants with relatively low water requirements has come and gone several times over the past few decades. Each new dry cycle seems to bring a new awakening, a new missionary movement, and the “learning” of new approaches to gardening. All of these seem to be quickly forgotten soon after the wet years return. In the long run, however, it is clear that with a growing population and (at least in our lifetimes) declining rainfall averages over much of the state, Californians will be gardening with less water, like it or not, even in the best of years. Fortunately, there is already a large body of information on which to draw, some of it–like new developments in drip and spitter irrigation–being compiled continuously in the interest of more economical garden maintenance. Some of the best information on particular plants comes simply from observing neglected or abandoned gardens, regardless of current weather patterns.

Partly by design, partly by pursuing other fancies with plant groups from California, the Southwest, Mexico, temperate South America, Australia and South Africa, we at Suncrest have gradually accumulated a collection of several hundred plants with a record of at least moderate tolerance of summer drought. This means simply that they can be maintained in good condition with substantially less summer irrigation than the average popular garden plant (and vastly less than the lawns that still fill major portions of many California landscapes). The fact that many of these plants are also beautiful, fill nearly every possible garden niche, and collectively provide year-round seasonal interest, would make them desirable garden candidates even if water were not an issue.

You can use the alphabetical listings below (with page divisions for the larger groups) to easily access informational displays on these plants. More detailed descriptions and information on how to use them are now available in our new publication, Plants for a Thirsty State, in PDF format. Click here to download the complete publication, with color covers, in PDF format. A separate, smaller file with just the main body text is available here.

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Plant Name Capsule Description
Adenanthos x cunninghamii Natural hybrid mounds to 3-6 feet high. Narrowly divided leaves are silvery blue-green. Small red flowers along the stem
Adenanthos sericea 8 feet+. Silky grey leaves. Orange tube flowers.
Adenanthos 'Silver Haze' Erect habit, with silver divided lvs, small red flowers in spring. UCSC/Koala Blooms selection.
Aeonium arboreum Wide, round green rosettes on tall stems; yellow fls.
Aeonium arboreum 'Purpureum' Round red-purple broad succulent rosettes on sturdy stems. Yellow flowers.
Aeonium arboreum 'Zwartkop' Large dark purple-black rosettes on sturdy stms. Yellow fls.
Aeonium 'Blushing Beauty' 1-2'h. Tight clusters of green rosettes tinged with red.
Aeonium decorum Pinwheel. 3" green rosettes have red margins; pink fls.
Aeonium haworthii Well branched succulent has many blue green rosettes on short stems, making a dense mound.
Aesculus californica California buckeye. White to pinkish flower candles in spring.
Agave angustifolia 'Marginata' Cream edges on sturdy blue green leaves with prickly edges.
Agave attenuata Spineless, pale yellow green leaves in large rosettes form substantial clump. Flower stems nod at the tips.
Agave attenuata 'Ray of Light' PP#21854 Spineless, pale green leaves have creamy edges. Large rosettes.
Agave 'Blue Flame' Blue-green leaves with terminal spine. Broad clumps.
Agave 'Blue Glow' Single chalky blue rosette, red/yellow edging, one red spine at leaf tip.
Agave bracteosa 'Calamar' Slow growing pale green rosette, no spine tips. Occasional 3-5 foot spike of white flowers. Few offsets.
Agave colimana Greyish green rosette with white edges. Flower stem can reach 10 feet.
Agave 'Cream Spike' Blue grey leaves edged cream. Chestnut spines.
Agave desmetiana 'Variegata' 2-3'high/wide. Yellow edges, dk. green rosettes.
Agave geminiflora Narrow green spine-less leaves form dense globe. Flower stem to 8-10 feet.

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